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English Literature as a school subject Renaissance Man (1994, dir. Penny Marshall) 1. Why ‘literature’? 2. Why Shakespeare? 3. Why Hamlet?

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Presentation on theme: "English Literature as a school subject Renaissance Man (1994, dir. Penny Marshall) 1. Why ‘literature’? 2. Why Shakespeare? 3. Why Hamlet?"— Presentation transcript:


2 English Literature as a school subject

3 Renaissance Man (1994, dir. Penny Marshall) 1. Why ‘literature’? 2. Why Shakespeare? 3. Why Hamlet?

4 What is Bill Rago teaching the ‘Double D’s? „basic comprehension”: two senses 1. Understanding (literary) language Bill Rago’s pleasure vs. difficulty “Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off” (simile, metaphor, oxymoron): language skills → understanding complex texts; analytical skills

5 “...Thus with the year Seasons return, but not to mee returns Day, or the sweet approach of Ev’n or Morn, Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose, Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine” John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book Three, lines 40-44

6 What is Bill Rago teaching the ‘Double D’s? „basic comprehension” 2. Understanding complex human situations literature as a life manual; psychotherapy This is tested in the film: - Melvyn reading the letter from home - Benitez reciting in the rain from Henry V - Nathaniel Hobbs reading Othello in jail

7 The humanist idea of literature Appreciating beauty → self-improvement Art transforms us (Rilke poem: „Change your life!”) Catharsis

8 Why Shakespeare? 1. Universal appeal „Isten másodszülöttje” Professor Quiller-Couch (1917): letting Shakespeare “have his own way with the young plant  just letting him drop like the gentle rain from heaven, and soak in”

9 Why Shakespeare? Cultural authority But: „He that increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes. 1.18; quoted in the film by Hobbs)

10 Why Shakespeare? National symbol usable as propaganda (Laurence Olivier’s 1945 film Henry V) Used in education → Eng. Lit. as a school subject institutionalisation

11 What did we have before ‘Eng.Lit’? what subjects did it replace? Classics Bible studies Rhetoric 1828: First chair of Eng. Lit. (London); 1904: Oxford after WW1: “Eng.Lit.” with its present function

12 “England is sick and … English literature must save it. The Churches having failed, and social remedies being slow, English literature has now a triple function; still, I suppose, to delight and instruct us, but also, and above all, to save our souls and heal the state” (Prof. George Gordon, Oxford)

13 Eng. Lit. as a school subject its function is not the passing on of knowledge but “the cultivation of the mind, the training of the imagination, the quickening of the whole spiritual nature” (Prof. Moorman, Leeds, 1914)

14 Why Hamlet? Why Henry V? Student vs soldier

15 „Duplicity” of „Eng. Lit.” (1) HUMANIST MYTH „All pupils need the civilizing experience of contact with great literature, and can respond to its universality. They will depend heavily on the skill of the teacher as an interpreter” (Newsom Report, UK, 1963) (2) THE POLITICS OF ENG. LIT: the classroom as a civilising place

16 Interpretation and power 1 „Vajon érted-é, amit olvasol? Mi módon érthetném, hacsak valaki meg nem magyarázza nékem?” (Ap. Csel. 8.31) „Understandest thou what thou readest? How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8.31)

17 Interpretation and power 2 Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel? Polonius: By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed. H: Methinks it is like a weasel. P: It is backed like a weasel. H: Or like a whale? P: Very like a whale.

18 Interpretation and power 3 Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew: Petruchio: Good lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon! Katharina: The moon! the sun: it is not moonlight now. P: I say it is the moon that shines so bright. K: I know it is the sun that shines so bright. P: Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself, It shall be moon, or star, or what I list, Or ere I journey to your father’s house. K: Forward, I pray, since we have come so far, And be it moon, or sun, or what you please.

19 „Added values” Class, race, gender issues and identities unasked questions

20 The history of “Eng. Lit.” Eng. Lit. Invented as a “civilising instrument”: mission of civilizing the natives (“savages”) 1835: English Education Act (India) Back in Britain: civilising the “savages” at home standardising language, inventing national identity

21 Curriculum, Classics, Canon Classics: taxation categories Canon: religious context: texts with authenticity, authority, and value. secular context: same features related to “cannon” and “cane” (Gr. kané) What we read and how we read

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